It Is Time to Stop Fighting Against Machine Translation and Start Finding Ways to Use It Most Efficiently

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza, BrusselsMachine translation is a hot topic all around the web. The tone of the discussion is often negative. Machine translation is argued to have such quality issues that the best it can produce are funny translation mistakes to laugh at. The jokes are amusing but overall we think that this kind of conversation has gone astray.

Machine translation is a tool for human beings. It is a machine to automate work that previously has been done by a man. It is created to make our lives easier. During the history there have been plenty of cases like this when a machine has been developed to ease the work of a man. Always there has been opposition against such innovations but when time has gone by these machines have found their places. This will happen to machine translation as well. And it is not a bad thing. Continue reading It Is Time to Stop Fighting Against Machine Translation and Start Finding Ways to Use It Most Efficiently

In Machine Translation Post-editing Quality Can Be Traded for Productivity

In association with Kites, Finnish machine translation experts and enthusiasts have formed Special Interest Group for machine translation in Finland. In one meeting we handled a hot subject of post-editing machine translations. Post-editing means that a professional translator checks and edits automatic translations which are made by a machine. The interesting topic with excellent presentations (one made by Jukka Outinen of Lionbridge and another by freelance translator Tommi Nieminen) sparked a lively discussion.

Machine translation post-editing can be efficient.One of the ideas highlighted during the meeting was that in traditional translation by a professional translator, it does not make much sense to lower one’s quality requirements. It does not improve productivity. A professional translator cannot choose to “write bad translations”. With professional translators, the style and fluency of the text come together with the translation. However, the situation is different when post-editing machine translations.

In post-editing machine translations it can make sense to lower quality requirements because that indeed improves productivity. When the task is to post-edit an automatic translation, the translator can choose not to correct those parts of the machine translation that are correct but written in a clumsy language. Thus the translator saves some time at the expense of the quality. Therefore, in post-editing machine translations the quality can indeed be traded for productivity.

This naturally changes the translation market. Clients can now choose between lower and higher quality, depending on his requirements and budget. Affordable, quick and good enough translations made by a machine and a man together are fulfilling the scale of available translation services. An increase in productivity will enlarge the entire translation industry.


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A Guide to Machine Translation

Machine translation is a great tool for right situations. However, it is important to know how to use automatic translation to get the most out of it. This guide explains the essentials of machine translation:

Machine translation can save time and money but it won’t produce perfect translation quality. However, when good enough quality is enough, automatic translation is a real alternative. When do you use machine translation?


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To Use Machine Translation or Not to Use – That’s the Question

Machine translation is widely available, quick and easy. Machine translators know dozens of languages. Machine translated texts look correct (“although I don’t actually understand the language and thus cannot be sure whether it’s correct”).  At the same time machine translation gets a lot of negative response about its poor quality. Many professional, human translators argue that proofreading a machine translated text takes more time and is more laborious than translating from a scratch. These opposite point of views can be very confusing. So, should I use machine translation or not?

Arguments against machine translation

Machine translators are not and will never become human beings. Languages are human made communication methods with some logic and a lot of irregularity. Machines calculate, people think.

Using machine translation contains risk if one doesn’t have any skills on that specific language.

Machine translation is still rarely totally flawless. The fact is that machine translators make mistakes what comes to the grammatical correctness.

Machine translators are too easy and fast which lowers the threshold to use it. In worst scenario the situation can be similar to sending SMS under influence. Some acumen is always recommended.

Low quality machine translations ruin the overall quality of written languages, and thus it shouldn’t be used.

Arguments for machine translation

People always understand their own language (even with low quality) better than a language they have no knowledge of.

Machine translation quality is improving constantly; today some language pairs produce amazingly good machine translation quality.

In situations when time and money are restrictive assets machine translation is often the most reasonable way to translate.

Machine translation is a tool for understanding the idea or message of foreign language information. It’s not even supposed to be a grammar genius.

Machine translation is cheap or even free, and thus one can easily try whether the text can be translated with machine translator. If the outcome is unreadable, the losses remain very minimal.

Some translators and translation agencies charge less for proofreading of machine translated text than for translating from the beginning.

New innovations in the field of machine translation quality, which both improve and evaluate the quality, will decrease all the uncertainty around machine translation.

What other reasons would you argue either for or against machine translation?


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When Machine Translation Usefulness Is Higher Than Quality

Often usefulness of machine translation quality is regarded as the same thing as its quality. However, machine translation can be used in many ways. And in different use cases different things matter. Here we represent one case where translation’s usefulness depends only partially on the machine translation quality.

The example is about a newsletter which was machine translated to different languages.  The newsletter recipients were asked to evaluate both the quality of the translation and how useful they think the translation is. (Read the complete case study here.) The graph below shows the results.


These results are quite interesting. The graph shows that although the machine translation quality was evaluated far from perfect, the translations’ usefulness was regarded as higher than its quality. However, this applies only when translation quality is above certain threshold. Bad or poor quality machine translations are naturally deemed as useless.

Although this case study is rather old, it seems that the respondents were rather tolerant towards translation errors. The quality of machine translation is nowadays quite different than it was in the beginning of the 21st century. It’s hard to tell what were the respondents general conceptions about the overall quality of machine translation. It is probable that today the use of free machine translation services has taught people to expect even less from machine translation.

The most important thing here is to realize that the quality (or the lack of it) doesn’t directly determine the usefulness of the machine translation. The quality of machine translation is more than just correct grammar.


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